Rural Water Rally

Remarks Delivered By:
John W. Keys, III, Commissioner

National Rural Water Association
Washington, D.C.

April 20, 2004

Good morning, and welcome to the Nation's Capitol. I hope you are having a good time in this great city - there are many things to see and do this time of year. Thank you for inviting me to address your Association and to attend your annual rally on rural water.

This rally is very timely. I'm pleased to report that just a few weeks ago we submitted legislation to Congress to establish a Rural Water program to be managed by Reclamation within the Department of the Interior. I'll discuss this in more detail in a minute.

But first, I believe it is important for you to understand the context in which the Bureau of Reclamation has been working on rural water issues over the last several years.

As you know better than anyone, there is still a tremendous need in the West for potable water supplies. Despite 100 years of work by Reclamation and the efforts of the people in this room, millions of Americans still live without safe drinking water, a basic necessity of life.

There are eight Federal agencies that have 17 programs designed specifically for rural areas to construct or improve water and wastewater facilities. These programs are managed in the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

In general, assistance through these programs is available based upon specific eligibility criteria relating to the missions and authorities of the agencies and programs. But some needs are not being met and many of those communities are coming to Reclamation for help.

At Reclamation, we have no structured program for developing or funding rural water projects and, therefore, we have no established eligibility criteria. What has happened is that Congress has authorized us to develop a number of specific projects. And, we have been working hard to implement those laws. We are making progress on developing these authorized projects. But, it has not been easy.

Since the early 1980's, Congress has authorized thirteen separate single-purpose Reclamation projects for municipal and industrial water supply in rural communities in Reclamation States. The total federal budget authorization for those projects is over $2.3 billion. These all have come at a time when security and law enforcement costs, operation and maintenance costs, dam safety costs, and other program obligations continue to grow, competing for scarce budget resources.

In addition, one of the obstacles has been that Reclamation lacks generic authority to plan, design, and construct rural water projects, so we have limited ability to set priorities and criteria for project development, and to budget accordingly - which means that we mainly pass the money through to others.

S. 2218, The Reclamation Rural Water Supply Act of 2004, addresses these challenges. We submitted the bill to Congress. It was then introduced and was the topic for a Senate hearing where I had the opportunity to testify last month. We applaud Senators Domenici and Bingaman for their leadership on this matter and the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources for focusing on the rural water issue. And, I want to personally thank your Executive Director, Mike Keegan, for all of his help and support.

S. 2218 is a comprehensive approach to addressing Reclamation's role in rural water. It would establish a rural water supply program within the Department of the Interior. It authorizes Reclamation to develop criteria and guidelines that would guide us and rural communities through a fair process for evaluating the water supply needs in those communities. S. 2218 establishes a framework for managing and prioritizing the development and construction of rural water supply projects for the benefit of communities, both Indian and non-Indian.

S. 2218 will create a more predictable process that will support realistic expectations for project sponsors. It will allow Reclamation to get involved early in the process, in appraisal and feasibility study phases, and to look at a full range of options for how to most effectively and efficiently meet the water supply needs of rural communities.

S. 2218 also will require Reclamation to coordinate with Federal and State rural water programs to determine the most appropriate agency to undertake a given project and otherwise facilitate the development of the most efficient and effective solution to meet the water needs of western rural communities.

And finally, S.2218 will provide authority to create a structured program to enable Reclamation and the Department to establish criteria and make the process more consistent, equitable and transparent.

One word of caution: This program, if authorized by Congress, will not result in a large pot of new funds. The budget climate right now is very tight, both for Reclamation and, indeed, throughout the Federal government. For Reclamation, there are many high priority items – law enforcement and security, dam safety, and operation and maintenance costs associated with our existing projects – just to name a few.

Speaking of high priorities, I want to touch on Water 2025: Preventing Crises and Conflict in the West. Water 2025 is Interior Secretary Gale Norton’s vision for the future management of water in the West. Water 2025 deals with the realities we face in today’s world:

  • Population growth is exploding in the West
  • Water shortages occur regularly in the West, and sometimes even in normal water years
  • Over-allocated watersheds cause crises and conflict
  • We continue to rely on old technology in dealing with today’s problems
  • Crisis management is ineffective in dealing with today’s problems

Water 2025 highlights four key tools that we can use today to alleviate and prevent crises over water:

  • Conservation, efficiency and markets
  • Collaboration
  • Research for more cost effective water treatment technologies, including desalination of salt water
  • Removing institutional barriers to efficient water management and improve interagency coordination of programs.
What you may not know is how difficult it is to get a Secretarial-level initiative, like Water 2025, off the ground, especially one as focused as this is on what is most important to all of us here today: the future of the West's water supplies. We all can be proud of what Secretary Norton has accomplished through Water 2025 – raising important Western water issues to national prominence and attention.

Clearly, Water 2025 is an important opportunity that we all can embrace and that will define how we, as Western water users and managers, meet the challenges before us. The Federal role in Water 2025 is simple: the Federal Government can provide technical and limited financial assistance in areas of the West where conflict and crises can be predicted. States, local water organizations, and other stakeholder and citizen groups should be taking the lead in resolving differences, looking to innovative solutions, and helping to map out the future of water management for the next generations of Westerners.

In the final analysis, long-lasting solutions to chronic water shortages will come from the local level -- not from the Federal government but from the people whose lives are most affected.

Collaboration is the key. Working together as partners through Water 2025, we can make a difference in preventing crises and conflict over water for years to come.

As a first step in implementing Water 2025, Secretary Norton announced the creation of a Challenge Grant Program in FY 2004. We have identified for this program $4 million of the $8.4 million appropriated in Fiscal Year 2004 for the Western Water Initiative. The Western Water Initiative is the first step toward Water 2025.

This program targets irrigation and water districts in the West that are willing to leverage their money and resources with the Federal government on projects that make more efficient and effective use of existing water supplies through water conservation, efficiency and water markets. The deadline to apply was April 8. We received over 100 proposals. I’m very pleased to see so many proposals – that is very good news since this is our first year of the program. We will make the selection within the next few months and plan on breaking ground on these projects around the first of August. And, for next year, Fiscal Year 2005, President Bush has requested $21 million for Water 2025.

I want to remind you that rural water is not new to us at Reclamation. We have been involved in rural water projects for a long time. In fact, we were founded as an agency to deal with rural water issues, primarily related to irrigation, in the Western United States .

Having testified just a few weeks ago, and having visited with several Senators and their staff, I am optimistic that Congress will act on this important issue. They understand the needs that exist and see Reclamation’s experience and expertise as a valuable tool to help deal with the water supply problems facing our rural communities. And I am confident that when S. 2218 is signed into law, the Bureau of Reclamation will be able to increase our role in dealing with rural water issues.

I do want to take the opportunity to say that I am honored to be serving in an Administration that seeks action and progress. President Bush is committed to addressing Western water issues in a balanced and practical way. This approach will help Reclamation continue to deliver reliable supplies of water and generate power for a growing West. He is a President who is not afraid to stand up for what is right, what is equitable, and what makes sense for the American people. We met with the President recently to find out what he expects from his top executives in the Administration in this important year, and do you know what he said? He said he expects us to do our jobs!

And look at Interior. Secretary Norton and Assistant Secretary Raley both understand western water. The team we have in this Administration is the finest I have ever experienced in my 37 years in the federal service. We are committed to doing what is right on water issues throughout the Western United States.

I want to thank you again for giving me the opportunity to address you this morning.

Thank You